Piano Competition Allows College Entrants

By Seth D. Cleveland
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — Arkansas State University hosts the J.D. Kelly Piano Competition every year, but until this year, the competition never allowed students to participate.

Lauren Schack Clark, professor of Music at A-State and organizer of the competition, said the competition has evolved over the years. The competition’s roots started in a former summer music festival. Clark said the festival began as “really a camp for pre-college students.  We started the competition as part of that festival around 2007, and the last year of the camp was 2014.”

But the time came for a change and the camp, which proved “very successful” according to Clark, drew to a close. Clark did not want the competition to end. So she retained the competition, but held it during the school year to make it more accessible for students who participate in other summer camps and family travel.

Starting last yea, Clark decided to incorporate an undergraduate division into the competition. According to Instructor of Music and annual judge Brian Henkelman, “It adds another level.”

With the addition of a new division with a larger cash prize, talented students from A-State and the entire surrounding area have the chance to win. According to the website, the competition offers cash prizes ranging from $25 to $200 for first and second place in every division.

No collegiate participants outside of Jonesboro participated this year, but Clark said she hopes that will change. The goal is to increase participation in all of the divisions by next year.

“The cash prizes are an incentive that not every competition can offer,” she said.

Those cash prizes do not come so easily. As a judge, Henkleman said, “The difference is perhaps in level of expectation.”

With the addition of the collegiate division comes a higher level of “maturity and professionalism.” Henkleman said while “the collegiate level usually offers more difficult literature … the judges are still listening for accuracy, musicality, appropriate interpretation and all of the elements of music that the students in the earliest levels are beginning to explore.”

Clark said the addition of the division serves as somewhat of a recruiting tactic.

“The competitions are designed to encourage excellence in musicianship and to give the students a goal to work toward.  They are also a recruiting tool.  Allowing college students to participate brings potential graduate students onto campus,” she said.

Henkleman and Clark said they agree that the incorporation of the undergraduate division is a great way to expose other students and colleges to the caliber of the music program. In addition to the college division, the competition also began to accept video entries.

The winners of this year’s undergraduate competition were Samantha Holt and Xin Ying Kong.